Quinoa Spring Sushi + DIY Quick-Pickled Ginger

Although she probably doesn’t even know it, the person most responsible for my undying appreciation of all things edible and insatiable hunger for new food adventures, is my best friend’s mother, Annie.
For their family, eating anything and everything outside of the ‘norm’, was the norm. I came from a pretty conservative household on the culinary front, and Annie opened up a whole world of tastes and possibilities for me. And as Annie was the first woman I met that truly loved cooking, meals at their house always left me full of wonder and wild inspiration. She also enjoyed taking us for dinner, and some of the more memorable meals out were at Ethiopian, Indian, Korean, and Macedonian restaurants – cuisines I’d never even heard of. When I was about 13, Annie took her daughter and I out for my first sushi. It was disgusting.

I am not sure what kept me going back to sushi, but there was this inexplicable pull towards it, even though it repulsed me. I think it was my third or forth try, years later in fact, that something just clicked. Suddenly, I loved it. I tasted all the flavours separately, but understood their perfect synergy. The delightful balance of textures made sense. I could finally appreciate the inherent beauty of their design and delicate aesthetic. It was the ‘ah-ha’ moment in that relationship for sure.

And now I am not only a sushi convert, but also a sushi maker. Yes, it’s true that training to become a sushi master can take decades of dedication, but I’ll settle with knowing the basics and munching on my humble, imperfect rolls.

Making sushi may seem like an intimidating undertaking, but trust me, it’s pretty simple, and very gratifying. The first roll or two may fall apart on you, but try again and you’ll eventually get the hang of it. Luckily, all your mistakes will still be delicious!

All in the Details
Anyone who has enjoyed a good sushi meal will tell you that it’s not just about the rolls themselves, but also the accompanying details. Sushi is traditionally served with three other condiments: soy sauce, pickled ginger, and wasabi. Although these delicious and necessary accessories seem innocuous enough, there are all too often nasty ingredients lurking inside them.
For this reason, I suggest either making your own condiments, or at least being educated enough to make healthy choices for yourself at the shop.

Pickled Ginger
Pickled ginger that accompanies sushi is called gari, and is meant to be a palette cleanser between rolls. The pink colour is occurs when young ginger is placed in an acidic liquid (vinegar). Unfortunately, most commercially produced ginger is artificially dyed and contains refined sweeteners.

Here is a totally fabulous recipe for pickled ginger using simple, whole-food ingredients. It only takes 45 minutes start to finish, so if you are making this sushi recipe, start with the ginger and it will be ready to eat when your rolls are. Boss!

Soy Sauce, So Confusing
They look the same, smell the same, and even taste very similar. So what is the difference between soy sauce, shoyu, nama shoyu, and tamari anyway? It seems a little confusing, but all of these salty seasonings originate from the same humble ingredient, the soybean.

One method of making soy sauce is by fermenting soybeans, water, wheat, and a special starter containing an aspergillus fungus. This mixture can be fermented for several years, which is the traditional method. A modern method speeds up the process by skipping the fermentation step, cooking the soybeans with hydrochloric acid, and adding caramel colour, corn syrup, salt and MSG. Sad face.
It goes without saying then, that I highly recommend purchasing good-quality soy sauce whenever possible. Choosing a soy sauce is like choosing a good bottle of olive oil or wine. Look for the words traditionally brewed, organic, and non-GMO. This is one condiment I will not compromise on – it’s worth the extra cost for purity and unparalleled flavour. Plus, the conventional and less expensive versions of this seasoning can contain food dyes, refined sweeteners, preservatives, and chemical residues from processing.

Soy Sauce – this is a Chinese seasoning of which there are two varieties, light and dark. The light one is lighter in colour with a low viscosity, and it is extremely salty. This type is more expensive than dark and used as a condiment at the table. Dark soy sauce is deep in colour with a higher viscosity, and sweeter in flavour (usually due to additives such as caramel colour and/or molasses). Dark soy sauce is used more frequently in cooking.

– This is the Japanese word for soy sauce. Shoyu is traditionally used as a condiment or seasoning after cooking, and for dipping sushi.

Nama Shoyu – Typically called for and used in raw food recipes, nama shoyu is unpasteurized soy sauce. However, because the vast majority of soy sauces are heated about 118°F / 47°C during pasteurization, you must read the label to confirm that the sauce is truly “raw”. Many brands label themselves nama shoyu even though they have been pasteurized.

Tamari – Tamari is another type of soy sauce, but prefect for people with gluten intolerance, as it is traditionally brewed without wheat. Absolutely check the labels to be one hundred percent sure. It must say gluten- and wheat-free.
Tamari has a stronger flavour than shoyu. It is usually used to season longer cooking foods such as soups, stews, and baked dishes. Tamari is used less frequently as a tabletop condiment or seasoning because its flavour can be overpowering.

All that said, I generally just keep shoyu in my kitchen, as I find it the most versatile of all the soy sauces. I also cook Japanese-style cuisine more often than Chinese, and wouldn’t dream of using Chinese soy sauce in a Japanese recipe – or committing the unspeakable: dipping sushi in Chinese soy sauce. Gasp! 
Always remember to keep soy sauces of any kind in the refrigerator. Yes, it goes bad. A bottle of open soy sauce will keep for two to three months.

The wasabi plant is a root from the Brassica family of vegetables, which include cabbage, and mustard. When wasabi is ground up and mixed with water, it becomes wasabi paste, the little green blob of brain-tingling heat that adds a level of peril to each bite.

Wasabi is difficult to cultivate, which why it is so expensive. Due to its high cost, wasabi powder is often blended with horseradish or mustard powder, and some green food colouring. Certain brands don’t contain any wasabi at all. Therefore when you are purchasing wasabi, always look for genuine wasabi powder. The ingredient list should only include wasabi, and no artificial food colouring. Never buy ready-made wasabi in a tube. It is most certainly dyed and contains additives to preserve its moist consistency. Pretty low-vibe if you ask me.
Look for genuine wasabi at high-end grocery stores.

My solution to eating green food colouring is actually horseradish. I know that this is probably considered sacrilege, but it is plentiful in Denmark, and far less expensive than the real McCoy. I buy the root fresh and grate a small amount directly onto inside of the sushi just before rolling it. It’s totally delicious and delivers the same sinus-clearing onslaught we all know and love.

Okay, onto the sushi. You can of course use the traditional rice if you like, or any other whole grain. I really like quinoa because it’s soft and fluffy, and tastes amazing with the nori. Just make sure that whatever grains you use, they are on the moist side, but not mushy. Add water to increase moisture if necessary.

Fillings are only limited to your imagination. Because spring is here, I chose to go with a mostly green veggie palette. Lightly blanched asparagus, radish, sweet pea pods, spring onions, young lettuce (yes, it’s delicious in sushi rolls!), avocado, and cucumber. Use whatever you have on hand and what is in season. You’d be surprised to know that this meal is in fact a great way to use up all the little bits of veggies hanging out in the fridge that you haven’t found a use for.

Tips & Tricks for Making Successful Sushi
1. Cut all the vegetables into a consistent width, so that you don’t create a “bulge” in the roll – this can encourage the nori to split.
2. Be careful not to overstuff the roll. This is not a burrito.
3. Select a maximum of three or four fillings per roll. You want to allow each ingredient to shine – with too many elements, the flavours of the individual fillings become muddled.
4. Moisten your hands as you assemble the rolls, especially when spreading quinoa over the nori. Keep a small bowl of lukewarm water next to where you are working so that you can continually dip your hands as needed. You can also use this water to moisten the bare end of the nori sheet to create a seal so the roll stays closed.
5. Use a very sharp knife. This is where ceramic knives really come in handy! Of course a sharp metal knife is totally fine, just make sure it has a razor edge, otherwise you’ll end up with a big, smashed-up mess.
6. It is important to wipe the blade of the knife clean with a damp cloth after every single slice of the roll.


So Annie, I dedicate this post to you for truly expanding my horizons and teaching me not to fear new foods, but to embrace them. Who knows where I’d be today if you hadn’t made me that maznik, introduced me to injera, or let me stir the pot of risotto. I can only hope to pass on a spark of the fire you lit inside me, and inspire those around me to let their guard down and just try something different. I suppose that in many ways, that is what this blog is all about. For that, I thank you.



Copyright 2012 My New Roots at mynewroots.blogspot.com


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  8. Josianne

    Wow! I had kind of gave up on making home made sushis as I was never quite satisfied with the results. Yet, today I decided to go wild and try out your awesome recipe. THANK YOU it was de-lishhhh!!

    I was really excited about trying the blanched asparagus with the avocado and radish these are not vegetables I would have thought of eating together! I put some spinach and cucumber in some of them too. I also did the pickled ginger without getting the water out of them first and I truly enjoyed the whole combo. As a dip sauce, I mixed some tahini w a crushed clove of garlic, some tamari and rice vinegar.

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  12. Zoe

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful recipe, made today, , although mine did not look as pretty as yours, it tasted as though the recipe was mastered. With gratitude. X

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  19. Kristina

    Hey! I usually hate people who keep recipe blogs and have a lot of “unnecessary” information about food, but I must say your blog is really facinating!! You know your stuff 🙂

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  23. Vandana

    Than you so much! I just tried vegan sushi for the first time when my boyfriend and I were in Hawaii. I loved it and wanted to make it. I am a huge fan of Ayurveda and organic produce and cooking from scratch with whole foods. I am so happy that my yoga friend posted a link to your blog on her FB wall today. I’ve already send your blog link to my Mom (who is my inspiration for cooking.) Thank you! I look forward to making this recipe over the weekend.

  24. Emi Reiner

    Wow, I’m amazed at your knowledge of soy sauce. I’m partial to Japanese soy sauce too, but I should be more careful about reading labels.

  25. Anonymous

    Hi there,
    I just wanted to tell you that I find your blog very inspiring. And that I love both sushi and quinoa, so this is the most perfect recipe for me. What I would like to ask: Is there such thing as “sushi quinoa”, is this something special, or do I just use normal quinoa and that’s it?
    Keep up the good work, warm regards!

  26. Anonymous

    Dear Sarah,

    Your blog is very special to me. The photography is so beautiful and your posts are so real and soothing in a such a busy world. I have learned so much and I have cooked many of your recipes. Some of my favorites are Four Corners Lentil Soup and Confetti Quinoa Salad.

    My husband and I made your recipe for Quinoa Spring Sushi and Pickled Ginger tonight. We have made a lot of sushi and found this variation to be INCREDIBLE! We especially loved the DIY pickled ginger. So fresh, spicy and delicious. We vowed to never buy pickled ginger again! My husband suggested I write you a note and I agreed!

    Thank you for all of the knowledge and inspiration you give to others!

  27. Eva

    These are beautiful, I´d never thought about making sushi with quinoa before. I´ve heard black sticky rice (Forbidden rice) works great as well, especially as it has a fairly similar texture to normal sushi rice– and it has that rich purple color. Btw, and I´m sure you already know this, but you have a lovely blog, I love your general approach¡

  28. Lily

    Yum… What a great idea. I’ve been reading you blog for a while now but never commented. I’ve tried many of your recipes and they were all delicious. Keep all the good work!

  29. Olga

    Hi Sarah,

    It was so great to see you in Copenhagen!
    I really can’t express how much it meant to me. And how much your blog means to me. Really.
    This last paragraph of your post I could easily write to you as you inspire me in many ways and in trying out new foods too! Thank you for that!
    I will try quinoa sushi for sure even though it always felt like not my thing to do…

    If you come here to Stockholm I’d love to be at your cooking classes. Please, just come!
    And I hope to see you again one day as I hope I won’t be so nervous about it:)

  30. Katie

    This looks incredible! I’ve nominated you for a versatile blogger award, come on over and check it out: chemegirlcooks.blogspot.com

  31. France@beyondthepeel

    What a fun tutorial. We love making sushi and used to do it all the time. Until I found out that most of the pickled ginger has aspartame. That shit is in the oddest places. Thank you for the recipe to make it. Very excited about that. I love the creative use of quinoa instead of rice. Did it stick together as well as the rice does? Just curious. I’ll give it a try.

  32. Ali

    I love the idea of making sushi with quinoa. It’s so much healthier than conventional white rice. I have heard of using mushed up cauliflower in sushi rolls, but this is the first I have seen quinoa. These look delicious, and I will definitely try this recipe soon!

    Thanks for the wonderful post!


  33. thelittleloaf

    What an absolutely wonderful post. I adore sushi but have always been a bit scared of making my own…bookmarking this post so I can read through your step by step instructions. I also love that you’ve used quinoa here – great interpretation.

  34. LilyR

    Love the idea of your re-interprated maki roll 🙂
    Though what I love about sushi / maki is the raw fish and the rice…. oh and the seaweed hummm!
    But with your recipe I think seaweed and quinoa looks delish 😀

  35. linden

    I am probably the last to know of your blog. It is just the most inspiring and beautiful place to have landed! I am so looking forward to spending all sorts of time here. Thank you so much!

  36. nabi

    Hi Sarah,

    just to let you know. In Japan, the traditional to dye gari is with red shiso leaves. That’s what gives its beautiful color and it’s easily done at home. I’m sure you could find the leaves in a japanese market in America, but I’m not sure if they have it where you are now! :s But you could also use some beetroot! 😀

    Thanks for the recipe! I’ve always to make some gari home!

  37. Sasha

    Sushi with quinoa: simply amazing. This beautiful post is a good reminder of why high-quality and homemade ingredients matter so much. I can’t wait to health up my sushi!

  38. Salome

    Oh my …
    When I initially saw this post i was like: God, not another sushi post, don’t we know it all?

    But as I learned: no! I’m so excited to try the pickled ginger. And the last shot of the unrolled roll looks just sooo tempting. I love the red/white quinoa mix.

    Will definitely try.

  39. Sarah B

    Wow! Thanks for all the lovely comments friends! So happy you are into this idea.

    To Janet – it’s important that the quinoa is moist enough, but if you follow the directions above it should be okay. Otherwise, just add a little water or more tezu to the cooked grain. That should solve it!

    Spring love to all,
    Sarah B

  40. RL

    Mmmm looks so beautiful and delicious! I adore nori, but was running out of creative ideas for it and….voilà! Enter, your recipe, just in time! Will try this asap. I am traveling this weekend and this will be the perfect make-ahead meal to bring with me- thanks!! You’re on a “roll”! 🙂 Quinoa spring sushi on the go! Great fusion food when we can’t decide between asian theme and spring fresh produce/quinoa. Yum! Keep the fresh spring recipes coming, I have Spring MyNewRoots fever! 🙂

  41. Brooke

    I have a slight (major!) blog crush on you. My friends and clients want to live with me, well I want to live with you. So glad I found your blog. Good Job! I learn so much from you-thank you.

  42. Sofia

    I’ve had the exact same repulsed but drawn in, then finally “clicked” into addiction experience with sushi! I’ve heard many others have too…something about it..

    I’ll definitely be trying the home made pickled ginger recipe. I’ve been making sushi for a while but haven’t thought of pickling my own ginger. I hate how sweet the commercial ones are. Great story, great post! Thanks, Sarah 🙂

  43. Valerie @ all mussed up

    There is something mystical and special about the bond between a girl and her auntie.

    My best friend’s mum is also my culinary fairy godmother…she taught me to make spicy chutneys, choose produce with a loving careful eye, juice the heck out of everything, wield a pressure cooker confidently, bake bread, and adore marmite.

    I can’t wait to be an auntie too.

  44. Elenore (E)

    Oh dear.. This is a wonderful soul filled post and just like that there is love all around (and always).

    I have had the same hate/fascination relationship to sushi but now we´ve made peace! Quinoa or Raw parsnip rice tend to always be there inside the nori roll when created in my kitchen. I did not now all the wacky stuff about wasabi, just bits and pieces..

    <3 I know that you know and you know that I know <3

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